Have you ever rushed into booking a hotel because there was only ‘one room left’? We’ve discovered that these claims on Booking.com don’t ring true – and could even be in breach of consumer law.
It’s a predicament I know I’ve found myself in. With a holiday on the horizon, I have a look on Booking.com to see what’s available.
After scrolling through dozens of listings, my eyes settle on the perfect hotel. It’s characterful, close to the centre and – best of all – the price is a steal!
Then I spy a little red prompt that strikes fear into my heart: ‘Only 1 room left on our site’.
I’d only intended to browse, but suddenly I’m snatching up my wallet. There’s a sense of urgency as I type in my credit card details.
I’d planned to check a few other sites and get the nod from my travel buddy – but there isn’t a moment to waste!
I can’t risk this last remaining room being snatched from my grasp. It’s only after I click ‘pay now’ that I notice Booking.com has five other rooms at the same hotel. They’re all available for my dates and almost identical to the one I’ve just booked.
It wasn’t the last room after all. In fact, I had plenty of time to shop around and think about my decision. I feel cheated.
It’s my job to know how companies exploit us to make a sale, and yet I still get caught out. Along with prompts telling us a property is ‘in high demand’ or ‘X people are looking’, this is pressure selling.
Here, the scarcity principle is at work: a psychological rule recognising that people attach value to things that are few in number, or likely to sell out soon.
It creates a sense of panic in the buyer and capitalises on our fear of missing out.
It’s for this reason that government watchdog the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) ordered booking sites to clean up their act earlier this year.
Companies were given until 1 September to phase out dodgy practices which could stop holidaymakers finding the best deal and potentially break consumer law.
The rules were clear: along with not giving a false impression of room availability, discounts had to be genuine, with the full cost of a hotel room – including city taxes and resort fees – displayed upfront.
The CMA also called for greater transparency about the role commission plays in how properties are ranked.
Booking.com along with Expedia, Agoda, Hotels.com, ebookers and Trivago all formally committed to make these changes.
It sent a ripple of reform through the industry, with TripAdvisor, Airbnb and Google following suit.
So I was as surprised as anyone to notice Booking.com was still up to its old tricks, even after the deadline passed.
During our spot check, we found that its ‘1 room left’ prompts were inaccurate a whopping five out of 10 times.
The CMA has promised to take stronger action if its finds that sites are breaking consumer law. In the meantime, it’s best not to be too hasty.
Booking.com’s statement on the CMA enforcement action
At Booking.com we work continuously to bring transparency, choice and value to travelers, continually testing and improving the way in which we present our services online.
As part of our continuous efforts to optimise the customer experience and transparency of our platform, we committed to implement new ways to surface information to consumers about the factors that affect the search rankings on Booking.com, how we determine price comparisons, and the data that supports messages about the availability and popularity of specific properties, among other features relevant to the customer booking experience.
We have worked hard to implement the commitments agreed with the CMA and maintain ongoing collaboration to inform continued enhancement of the consumer experience.
What do you think?
Have you ever felt rushed by a scarcity claim? Or perhaps you’ve been offered a better deal – or more availability – by contacting the hotel direct?
Whatever your experience, we want to hear from you.